I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 2 Corinthians 11:23-28
2019 has been a challenging year for myself and my family and I know it’s been that way for several of you who read this blog. I get a hint of where people are at when I ask for prayer requests every Monday on my Facebook wall. Inevitably, there are many needs shared. Some for marriages, some financial, some regarding employment, others health-related. But a common theme seems to dominate from week to week. In those needs, I often can identify. There are financial burdens of being in ministry and balancing a “day job.” There are health needs as my wife and I navigate raising a family of 6. There are simply needs to see God move and work mightily despite our own short-comings and failures. Challenges abound and we move one step in front of the other, taking life one day at a time.
So it might seem like I’m stepping on toes a bit today when I poke at some of the comfort and familiarity we often have as Christians. Please know I’m not trying to offend or even stir the pot because I know life gets tough. But I also realize as we follow Christ, there are no guarantees that it will be easy. Perhaps today is more of a reminder and a rallying cry to say, “let’s keep going.” We just finished a series of blogs on The Jesus Dare and I don’t want to too quickly leave that topic behind without pressing in a bit further. The out-pouring of a life of faith in Christ looks like those we see in the New Testament who follow Him. Men like Peter, James, Stephen, John and for the focus of today, Paul.
In Paul, we get the closest view into anyone’s life post-Christ’s ascension. We see early church ministry through Paul. We see him traveling to various regions proclaiming the Good News. We see in his letters, the instruction to individual churches and the burden of his heart to see them grow and flourish. We see not only all of this, but in the passage above, we also see some of the trials he endured as by-products of a life lived in Christ. Really, we see a faith that I would deem as “unsafe” and outside of the lines. Paul is a great example to us today and as we dig in, we see that his faith looks a lot different than what exists in most of modern American Christianity.
1. Christianity must not be comfortable
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I. Send me!" Isaiah 6:8
There’s a real element of “going” as we decide to follow Jesus. Jesus began His ministry picking disciples, converting them from fishermen to fishers of men. At the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry these men were given the charge: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” Mark 16:15 Paul’s own conversion experience involves a charge as well: “He [Paul] is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” Acts 9:15,16
Every aspect of Paul’s life seems to point towards an understanding that he had to go. He moved out of familiarity. He moved past barriers and crossed cultural lines. He spoke boldly about the Gospel no matter what audience was listening (from rulers to common ordinary people). Through his life and example, time and again he did things which didn’t conform and fit into the “Christian box” we so often subscribe to today. If we had to spend a day following Paul, I wonder how many of us would still be standing by the end of it. I know I would struggle because it would continually stretch me beyond my normal level of comfort and ease!
2. Christianity must not be convenient
During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. Acts 16:9,10
Comfort goes hand-in-hand with convenience. If a need comes up, we often hesitate because we want to check our planners and schedules and respond “I’ll get back to you about it.” But part of staying in the mode of being always ready means we cannot do things only when they are convenient. God’s timing and ours rarely, if ever, matches up. From my own experience, an opportunity to minister usually comes at the worst time.
“Can you help move a friend this weekend?”
“I’d like to talk further about this Jesus…can we meet for coffee today?”
“My mom is sick in the hospital, could we pray for her right now?”
My knee-jerk response in my head is always, “Oh man, what an inconvenience. I don’t have time for this.” But look at the life of Paul. Paul gets a vision in Acts 16 and in that vision, he is led to change course and allow God to interrupt his plans. The people of Macedonia needed to hear about Jesus too. If Paul had ignored the dream or just chalked it up to eating some bad pizza, what would have been the outcome? God will often interrupt our convenience in order to see His Kingdom built. Don’t fight His timing. Embrace and expect these “holy interruptions” in your life.
3. Christianity must not be cliched
cliche: a very predictable or unoriginal thing or person
Cliche is the one word I would not use to describe Paul or the other early church founders from the New Testament. There is nothing predictable about their stories. Every twist and turn of the path relays a dependence upon the Holy Spirit and an anticipation for “What is God going to do next?” If you read Acts, there is such an interesting narrative that plays out and it’s a testimony to the fact that Jesus truly lived, died, and rose again and upon His departure, the Holy Spirit came down. Nothing cliche. Nothing unoriginal. Definitely nothing boring or uneventful.
But when I look around at the state of Christians today, I see a different story. I see a story un-compelling and lackluster. I see people maybe going to church, maybe reading their Bible, but by and large, just living as if there’s nothing to share. Through those actions, we show an unbelieving world there’s really “nothing to see here.” And while the world passes by, we stay where it’s safe and comfortable. Sure we want the Gospel to be spread. We want people to know Christ. But that’s for someone else. That’s for the pastors, the evangelists, the missionaries…you know, the experts and people who get paid to do it. In all of this, we reduce our faith to something very much cliched and predictable.
Guys, I don’t want wrap up today without being completely transparent and honest. It’s easy to type big things behind a keyboard. But I’ll be straight with you: it’s hard to share my faith. It’s easier to talk about the weather or sports or ____ fill in the blank, some non-offensive topic. But to share Jesus, to put yourself out there and face rejection; that is one of the most difficult and nerve-wracking things to do.
Hear me out: I’m not saying we all move to Africa and become missionaries or quit our jobs and enroll in seminaries. We don’t have to. We have the Holy Spirit and if we in are God’s word, we have all the words we need. But often beyond just words, our actions display Jesus most fully. Maybe you are available to help that buddy move. Maybe you do meet for coffee even though your schedule’s tight. Maybe you not only pray for that person’s sick mother but you also pay her a visit in the hospital. Every time we reject the hesitation to say no, we walk further and further down a path that is marked less and less by a safe faith. Our Christianity was never meant to be comfortable, convenient, or cliched. It was meant to be lived on fire and expectant for what Jesus is going to do. It might seem unsafe at times. It might seem a bit scary. That’s ok. With the Holy Spirit inside us and our Heavenly Father watching over us, what do we possibly have to lose?
Let’s echo the words of Paul once more, knowing it’s worth it to follow this path: What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ. Philippians 3:8
I love you guys!